Lesson 19: The Reign of the Judges

Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (2001), 87–91


Purpose

To encourage class members to seek influences that will strengthen them in living the gospel in a challenging world.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prayerfully study the following scriptures:

    1. a.

      Judges 2:6–23. The cycle of apostasy begins as the rising generation of the children of Israel forsake the Lord to serve the gods of the people around them.

    2. b.

      Judges 4:1–16. Barak is commanded to free Israel from Jabin, king of Canaan (4:1–7). He agrees to go if Deborah will go with him (4:8–9). Deborah and Barak deliver Israel from the Canaanites (4:10–16).

    3. c.

      Judges 6–7. Gideon is commanded to deliver Israel from the Midianites (6:1–24). He and 10 other men destroy Baal’s altar at night (6:25–35). The Lord assures Gideon of help by granting him two signs (6:36–40). Gideon and 300 other men deliver Israel from the Midianites (7:1–25).

    4. d.

      Judges 13–16. An angel instructs Samson’s parents to raise him as a Nazarite (13:1–25). Samson performs great feats of strength but breaks many of his Nazarite vows (14–15). Samson gives in to Delilah’s enticing; his hair is cut, and he becomes weak, is captured by the Philistines, and dies while pulling down their temple (16:1–31).

  2. 2.

    Additional reading: “Judges, The” and “Judges, Book of,” Bible Dictionary, pages 719–20.

  3. 3.

    You may want to ask class members to prepare to summarize one or more of the scripture accounts in this lesson.

Suggested Lesson Development

Attention Activity

You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.

President Gordon B. Hinckley told of a time when he planted a young tree in his yard but neglected to use supporting stakes to help it grow straight. In time, the wind caused the tree to lean badly to one side. President Hinckley realized that if he had tied the tree to stakes, it would have been supported until it was strong enough to resist the wind on its own. (In Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 77–78; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 59.)

Explain that we may sometimes be like that young tree, unable to withstand the wind (the temptations of Satan) on our own. In the book of Judges we learn about some of the “stakes” that can support us. Draw on the chalkboard a young tree tied to four supporting stakes. As you progress through the four scripture accounts in the lesson, label each stake as follows:

tree with supporting stakes

Scripture Discussion and Application

As you teach the following scripture passages, discuss how they apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

Led by Joshua, the Israelites conquered much of the promised land. After Joshua died, Israel was not united under a single leader until the days of the prophet Samuel and King Saul. During this interval, 12 judges served as Israel’s rulers and military leaders. Most of their reign was tragic as Israel went through the cycle of apostasy, bondage, repentance, and delivery many times.

Offsetting the tragic parts of this history are stories of people who remained true, setting powerful examples of how to exercise faith and courage in an apostate world. Deborah and Gideon were both righteous judges whom the Lord raised up to deliver Israel. Deborah’s faith was largely responsible for delivering Israel from a Canaanite army. Gideon’s reliance on the Lord allowed his 300-man army to miraculously defeat the Midianites.

1. The strength of righteous parents and the consequences of forsaking their ways

Teach and discuss Judges 2:6–23.

  • In the book of Judges, the children of Israel experienced several cycles of righteousness and apostasy (see the “Cycle of Apostasy in Judges” diagram on page 89). How did the rising generation of Israelites begin the cycle of apostasy? (See especially Judges 2:10, 12, 17, 20, and 22. Suggest that class members mark key words in these verses. Point out that the children of Israel left God and left the ways and the covenants of their parents.)

    cycle of apostasy
  • Why do children sometimes forsake the righteous teachings and ways of their parents? How can parents help their children be faithful? How have your parents or other family members strengthened you in righteous living?

  • How can we recognize the early signs of apostasy? How can an individual break the cycle of apostasy? How might we appropriately help a family member or friend who seems to be falling away from the truth?

2. Deborah—the strength of a righteous friend

Briefly review the story of Deborah and Barak from Judges 4:1–16, or have an assigned class member do so.

  • What did the Lord command Barak to do? (See Judges 4:6–7.) How did Barak feel about this assignment? On what condition was Barak willing to go to battle against Sisera and his 900 chariots? (See Judges 4:8.) Why do you think Barak was willing to face Sisera if Deborah would go with him?

  • What impresses you about Deborah? What qualities did she have that Barak may not have had? (See Judges 4:4–9, 14.)

  • What can we learn from Deborah about being a true friend? (One thing we can learn is that true friends inspire us to obey the Lord and give us the strength to do what is right.) How have your friends helped you face difficult challenges or obey the Lord’s commandments? How can we be better friends to others?

    Suggest that class members write down the names of their friends and ask themselves (1) if they are like Deborah to these friends and (2) if these friends are like Deborah.

3. Gideon—the strength of faith in God

Briefly review the story of Gideon from Judges 6–7, or have an assigned class member do so.

  • What did the Lord command Gideon to do? (See Judges 6:14.) What was Gideon’s first response? (See Judges 6:15.)

  • How did the Lord assure Gideon that He had commanded him to deliver Israel and that He would be with him and help him? (See Judges 6:16–23, 36–40; 7:9–15.)

  • When Gideon believed that the Lord had truly commanded him to deliver Israel, he went forward with faith. Why did the Lord want Gideon’s army of 32,000 men reduced to 300 to fight the Midianites? (See Judges 7:2. The Lord wanted the Israelites to trust him and recognize his power, not their power.) How does the Lord teach us to trust him and recognize his power today?

  • What happened when Gideon and his 300 men faced the Midianites? (See Judges 7:16–23.) Why do you think Gideon had his men shout, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon”? (See Judges 7:20. Gideon knew—and wanted his men to know—that the Lord was with them.)

  • What can we learn from Gideon? How has the Lord helped you do something that he asked you to do that was difficult? (As class members share experiences, testify that when the Lord commands us to do something, he will help us accomplish it.)

4. Samson—the strength of covenants and the consequences of breaking them

Briefly review the story of Samson from Judges 13–16, or have an assigned class member do so.

  • How did Samson’s mother, who was barren, learn that she would have a son? (See Judges 13:2–3.) What did the angel tell Samson’s mother about the son she would bear? (See Judges 13:4–5. Explain that Nazarites made covenants with the Lord to separate themselves from the things of the world and become holy unto him. The Nazarite vow is set forth in Numbers 6:2–6, 8.)

  • What blessings did the Lord give Samson to help him fulfill his mission to deliver Israel from the Philistines? (See Judges 13:24–25; 14:5–6, 19; 15:14–15. The Lord gave him spiritual and physical strength.)

  • As a Nazarite and a member of the house of Israel, Samson made covenants with the Lord. However, he soon broke his Nazarite vow and his covenants as a member of the house of Israel. What vows and covenants did he break? (Some of the covenants Samson broke are listed below.)

    1. a.

      He married outside the covenant house of Israel (Judges 14:1–3).

    2. b.

      He was immoral with a harlot (Judges 16:1).

    3. c.

      He had his hair cut (Judges 16:4–20).

  • What were the consequences of Samson’s violation of his covenants? (See Judges 16:17–21. He lost his spiritual and physical strength, and the Philistines blinded him and bound him. If necessary, explain that Samson’s hair was not the source of his physical strength. Rather, his hair was a sign of his covenant with the Lord, and when his hair was cut, the Lord took away his physical strength because the covenant was broken.) What happens when we violate our covenants? What signs do we have of our covenants with the Lord?

  • The covenants we make with the Lord should be a source of strength, guidance, and commitment. What covenants do we make with the Lord? How have these covenants strengthened you? (One way covenants strengthen us is by helping us resist Satan’s efforts to blind or bind us.)

  • Samson had great potential. The angel who announced his birth said he would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The Lord blessed him with many gifts, including great physical strength. What inner weaknesses caused his downfall? (See Judges 15:7; 16:1; D&C 3:4. Answers may include self-indulgence, immorality, seeking revenge, and violating covenants.) How can we overcome weaknesses that may hinder us from fulfilling our potential?

Conclusion

Explain that in the book of Joshua the Israelites fought and won many physical battles against the Canaanites. However, in the book of Judges the Israelites began to lose spiritual battles, letting themselves be influenced by the Canaanites’ worldly practices and false gods. We face similar spiritual battles. Testify that we can succeed in these battles as we (1) follow the ways of righteous parents and ancestors, (2) make good friends, (3) increase our faith in the Lord, and (4) keep our covenants.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Parents’ contribution to their children’s worldliness (Judges 1:28)

  • The failure of the rising generation of Israelites to remain faithful was not entirely their own fault. According to Judges 1:21, 27–33, and Judges 2:1–4, how was the foundation for the children’s failure laid? (It was laid by the parents’ failure to drive out the Canaanites. Even though the parents were strong enough to resist the influences of the world around them, their children were not.)

  • How do some parents today expose their children to worldly influences, making the same error as the parents of the “rising generation” of Israelites? (Encourage specific answers.)

2. Miracles in our day

  • Why do some people feel, like Gideon, that the Lord worked more miracles in previous generations than he does in theirs? (See Judges 6:13.) What is our role in the working of miracles? (See Moroni 7:35–38.) How do you know that God continues to work miracles today? How can we better recognize the quiet miracles in our lives?

3. “Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me” (Judges 7:2)

  • Why did the Lord command Gideon to send most of his troops home before facing the Midianites? (See Judges 7:2.) How do some of us today “vaunt [our]selves”? (Instead of recognizing that our blessings and strength come from the Lord, some of us claim to have earned all that we have through our own efforts.) How can we overcome this problem?

4. Resisting temptation

  • Why, after Samson knew that Delilah had tried three times to betray him, did he tell her the secret of his strength? (See Judges 16:15–17.) Contrast Samson’s responses to Delilah with Joseph’s responses to Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7–12). How can we resist or overcome persistent temptations?